The film opens at the 16th precinct where a new lieutenant, Thomas (Karl Malden), is being introduced. At the same time, Detective Mark Dixon (Andrews) is reprimanded by the captain due to a high number of civilian complaints levied against him. In another part of the city, a floating crap game is taking place in a hotel room, run by Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill). The game takes a violent turn when one of the players is murdered.The police (including Dixon) are summoned to the scene of the crime. It is apparent that Dixon has a history Scalise by the manner in which the men interact with one another. By the time the police arrive at the hotel, one of the suspects, Ken Paine, has fled the scene. Dixon tracks Paine down to get his account of events. Dixon finds Paine drunk and uncooperative. In the process of questioning Paine, the two men get in a tussle and Dixon accidentally kills Paine. Dixon creates an elaborate scheme to serve two purposes 1) to cover up his crime and 2) implicate Scalise in Paine’s death.
In the ensuing investigation, Dixon encounters Morgan Taylor, the ex-wife of Ken Paine. Dixon is also introduced to Morgan’s father, Jiggs Taylor, who instantly recognizes and admires Dixon.
In attempting to frame Scalise in the murders, Dixon inadvertently makes Jiggs the prime suspect. At the same time, Dixon and Morgan are spending more time together; their romantic involvement causes Dixon to rethink his actions. He makes the fateful decision to confess to the crime and exonerate Jiggs. This means confronting Scalise one last time. Subsequent events appear to clear Dixon of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, he insists on setting things right. After Dixon confesses, he is arrested and Morgan declares she will stand by him no matter the outcome.
This film marked a reunion for Preminger, Andrews and Tierney who six years prior teamed up to produce one of the period’s quintessential crime dramas, Laura (1944). Laura benefited greatly from being a slickly produced A-movie, since the world the characters inhabited is a world of the privileged; Laura is what I classify as a “high society” noir. Sidewalk on the other hand has more working class and brutal elements, and does not benefit from such a highly stylized aesthetic. As a result when compared to Laura, Where the Sidewalk Ends would definitely appear inferior. However, in my opinion, this should not discount Sidewalk’s effectiveness as a crime drama.
As the film’s leads, Andrews and Tierney remind the audience of their amazing chemistry. Dana Andrews is very good at playing a tough as nails detective who likes to soften his suspects and calls his women dames. Gene Tierney for her part is a very interesting study. On the surface, you would think that her exotic looks would allow her to be typecast (which she was early on in her career). However, her performance in this film displays her versatility. She is pretty and glamorous to be sure but unlike Laura Hunt who was refined and sophisticated, Morgan Taylor is an average working girl. Tierney convincingly plays the role.
Another key to the formula of making the film work is the writing. With celebrated screenwriter Ben Hecht leading the writing effort, there is little chance the dialogue would not be good.
According to the production notes, the film was shot entirely on location in New York City and in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. This frankly came as a surprise to me because many of the shots look like they were shot on a studio lot. One possible explanation for this is that Preminger successfully created a claustrophobic feeling, which is a trademark of many film noirs.
Overall, these elements combine to make Where the Sidewalk Ends an effective and enjoyable entry in the canon of film noir.